The Mysterious tale of Sir Christopher Wren, a Ridout family and the ‘Culloden Medal’

Amongst Arthur George RIDOUT’s research notes was a transcription of an obituary which appeared in The Times (15 Apr 1881) following the death of Captain Cranstoun George Ridout of Baughurst House in Hampshire. The piece included this intriguing passage:

“He was the possessor of the Cumberland Medal of which only four were struck after the Battle of Culloden and which he inherited from his Father to whom it had been bequeathed as next of Kin by his Uncle Lieut. General Wren, Brother of Sir Christopher Wren, the Architect of St Pauls (London).”

Cranstoun George Ridout, the son of John Christopher Ridout and his wife Mary (née CURTIS), was born in ~1786, probably at Eltham in Kent. Like his father, Cranstoun chose a military career and lived a very long, and no doubt eventful, life – but what had caught my attention, of course, was the implied relationship between this branch of Ridouts and Sir Christopher WREN, arguably one of the most famous architects in English history. I went up to The National Archives and nosed around to see what I could find and was quite lucky, but I neglected to follow up the story until very recently when I was contacted by a member of the Wren family asking me if the story was true. I decided to ‘re-open the case.’

Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) was the only son of Christopher Wren (1589-1658) and his wife Mary (née COX) who survived to adulthood. He married twice and his wives (Faith COGHILL and Jane FITZWILLIAM) bore him two sons, Christopher (b. 1675) and William (b. 1679). The family is, understandably, well documented but there is certainly no mention of a Jordan Wren, which wasn’t a promising start; I’d expected that a relative of the famous Christopher Wren might have generated quite a few records of his own, especially having been a Lieutenant General of some distinction. One of the two online records (on Ancestry.co.uk) that I did find is that of Wren’s burial, on the 22nd January 1784 at Southwark Cathedral, or to give it its full name, the Cathedral and Collegiate Church of St Saviour and St Mary Overie. ‘The History and Antiquities of the Parochial Church of St Saviour Southwark…’ (published by Nightingale, 1818) gives details of Wren’s memorial; the lengthy epitaph supports a Ridout connection:

“Near this place are interred the Remains of Elizabeth Roberts, who died April 17th, 1747, aged 77. John Voice, who died August 3rd 1750, aged 70 years. Thomas Roberts, son of the aforementioned Elizabeth Roberts, who died February 9th, 1754, aged 59 years. Catherine Voice, wife of John Voice, and daughter of Elizabeth Roberts, who died March 9th, 1768, aged 64. Elizabeth Voice, who died May 10th, 1732, aged one year and four months; and John Voice, who died July 12th, 1747, aged 18: the children of the aforesaid John and Catherine Voice. Also of Lieutenant General of his Majesty’s Forces, and Colonel of the 41st Regiment of Foot, who died January 11th, 1784, aged 87 years. In memory of whom this monument is erected by Christopher Ridout of Christchurch, Surrey, in the year 1789, as being the next of kin.”

Christopher Ridout was the uncle of John Christopher and therefore great uncle of Cranstoun George; he was born on the 10th March 1727 in Fleet Street, London to Theophilus Ridout and his wife Love, widow of John BARNES; he became a Royal Naval surgeon, later living and practising in Lavender Hill, Battersea and died in 1790. Below is the line of descent of these Ridout characters to save possible confusion:

Tree2

To recap, Jordan Wren’s obituary suggests that Cranstoun George’s father (John Christopher) was Wren’s nephew. The epitaph inscribed on the monument in Southwark says only that Christopher Ridout was ‘next of kin’ and there are additional layers of confusion! In 1903, a letter was sent to Arthur George Ridout from ‘L.C.M. Mackay’ stating that Theophilus Ridout was Wren’s next of kin and that John (of Deptford) had married Wren’s daughter. In 1925, an Eleanor Black-Hawkins wrote, in a daily newspaper, that her great grandfather, John Christopher Ridout was Wren’s great nephew. As this last statement was at least written by an established Ridout descendant it seemed appropriate to use this as my starting hypothesis. However, before I launched into what I thought might be a simple genealogical investigation I examined a Chancery case that I’d copied at the TNA, but had not read. It seems that the notion that Ridouts were related to Wren at all was hotly contested by another claimant, Esther BOURCHIER; the resulting dispute had been reported in The Gentleman’s Magazine (1784, Vol 1 p.315/6):

“Some months since, Gen. Jordan Wren, possessed of considerable property, and, as supposed, intestate. Two persons started as relations, and entered separate caveats to prevent administration. Each party hath called on the other to prove their consanguinity. On the evening of the 20th March, an unknown person dropped a letter in the area of a gentleman’s house in Marlborough-str. containing the will of the late General, in which many legacies are left to hospitals, &c. One of the above contending parties is named residuary legatee, and the gentleman at whose house it was delivered, with three other very respectable characters are appointed executors. The will is executed by the General, in the presence of two witnesses, v.z. Edward Bayley and Samuel Stead, who notwithstanding every possible means hath been used, are not yet discovered. In the will it is, moreover, his express desire to be buried in the General’s Row in Westminster-Abbey, and he has bequeathed a particular sum for that purpose. Being interred in Surrey by one of the claimants, before the will appeared on its establishment, he must be removed to the appointed repository. It is remarkable, neither the drawer, or copyer, nor dropper, or any persons concerned in the will, have hitherto stepped forward. It therefore is conjectured (and seemingly with good foundation), that it was entrusted by the General, previous to his death, with some since disappointed persons.”

Wren

The response to the finding of this will was immediate: the offering of a £500 reward, roughly £75,00 in today’s money! A Chancery case against Esther Bourchier was brought by Christopher Ridout, said to be Wren’s cousin once removed, on the 17th February 1786. The parties each contested the other’s right to claim relatedness and produced in evidence a series of letters bearing different handwriting styles and stamped with different seals. It was, in the end, decided that Ridout had the authentic claim and that Bourchier was only known to the General as she was the widow of a fellow officer with whom he had served and that he occasionally sent her small sums of money and gifts as a gesture of goodwill. The reader is advised, if interested, to examine for themselves the collection at TNA (PROB 86/19/20). Interestingly, according to the evidence and findings, it seems that the ‘supplementary will’ of Jordan Wren housed at TNA (PROB 20/2851) is the alleged forgery.

Forge seal

Heartened by the conclusions of an 18th century court I decided to try and piece the family tree together. As I stated above, there are only two online records (at ancestry.co.uk) for Jordan Wren, one of which is his burial; the other is for a baptism:

Jordan Wrenn baptism 1700A Jordan Wrenn was baptised son of John and Mary on the 19th January 1700/01 at St Mary’s church, Whitechapel. The father was said to be a Royal Naval Officer and the family lived at Goulston Square in the parish. Two other baptisms appear for the same couple: Mary (bp. 30 Dec 1698) and Katherine (bp. 15 Jan 1699/00), both of Goulston or Goldstone Square which, according to a Jack the Ripper wiki article, was a ‘former garden, halfway between Wentworth and Whitechapel Squares.’ As this was the only baptism that I could find of this name and at approximately the right date it was all that I had to go on, coupled with the rather ubiquitous and frustrating ‘John and Mary’ parents!

A variety of newspaper articles illustrated Wren’s progress through the military ranks. ‘The Secretaries of State: Letters & papers from the Secretary at War to the Secretaries of State’ (TNA: SP 41/5/156) dated 9th July 1720: Ensigns commissions to Nathaniel Green and Jordan Wren in Lord Hinchinbrooke’s Regiment upon the establishment in Ireland.”

Caledonian Mercury 16th May 1734: Jordan Wren to Lieutenant.
Caledonian Mercury 8th January 1756: Jordan Wren to be a Major to the Regiment of Foot on 1 Nov 1755.
Caledonian Mercury 13May 1758: Jordan Wren promoted from Major to Lt Col.
Derby Mercury: 5 Sep 1777: Jordan Wren promoted from Col. to Maj. Gen.

Having satisfied myself of a link between Wren and the Ridouts, it ‘only’ remained to find quite how they were related. If Christopher Ridout was supposedly a first cousin once removed of Jordan Wrenn and if, as all records show, Wren was unmarried and had no legitimate offspring then the only option was to find a cousin of Christopher’s mother, Love Ridout, formerly Barnes. The uncommon first name made it easy to find that John Barnes had married Love ROBERTS on the 23rd January 1704 at St Christopher Le Stocks, London and that Love Roberts was daughter of Christopher Roberts and his wife Elizabeth. Right away it became more than feasible that this Elizabeth Roberts could be one and the same woman named on the memorial which included Jordan Wren and was paid for by Christopher Ridout. Next came the first breakthrough: Christopher Roberts married Elizabeth JORDAN on the 19th August 1687 at St James’ church, Duke’s Place! Surely, Elizabeth’s surname could not be a coincidence? Here is the tree:

Tree3

So now I had to find a female sibling of Elizabeth Jordan and prove that her child was Jordan Wren and I knew that, if the baptism that I had found was correct, this lady’s name was Mary Jordan. I searched the database to which I had paid access and finally reached breakthrough number two… the big one…

Wrenn Jordan

John Wrenn and Mary Jorden were married on the 8th August 1695 at St Giles, Cripplegate, London. I am more than satisfied that these are Jordan’s parents, the father even retaining the ‘double en’ of the surname as found on Jordan’s baptism. I can’t prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Elizabeth and Mary were sisters but I would put a substantially hefty bet on it. It is almost certainly untrue that Jordan Wren was even related to Sir Christopher Wren but it is easy to say why family members might aspire to be connected to the great man. The final clincher was possibly the subject of much of the legal wrangling; besides Jordan’s accumulated wealth he had been awarded one of only four gold (officers only) so called Culloden medals for his part in the last battle on British soil, fought between the Jacobites and the Hanoverians on the 16th April 1746 at Culloden Moor. Wren apparently bequeathed it to Christopher Ridout’s son John Christopher, a fellow soldier… and in the family it is said to have stayed.

Cumberland

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Charles Vie Ridout – the man that nearly wasn’t.

Arthur George Ridout (1852-1939) a fellow Ridout researcher, to whose notes I sometimes refer, quite literally ‘sentenced’ this individual to death at the tender age of ten years: ‘Charles Vie bapt 1799 St Michaels Bristol buried Folke 22nd Dec. 1809 left no son.’ Over the past couple of days I have been resurrecting poor Charles who actually died aged sixty-five years and did leave a son, albeit rather an ill fated one. Piecing together Charles’ story has been, as these things usually are, an interesting genealogical adventure. Here he is then….

Charles Vie Ridout was baptised on the 2nd November 1801 at St Michael’s Church in Bristol (I could find no baptism in 1799), son of Charles Ridout and Jane (née Smith) of whom I have written before. Charles’ middle name reflected that of his paternal grandmother Jane Vie. There was a burial of a Charles Vie Ridout, in Folke, Dorset on the 22nd December 1809 but, as no parents were entered in the register I think this was more likely to have been the burial of an adult. Quite by chance I noticed the death registration for a Charles Vie Ridout during the 4th quarter of 1864 in West London; I also found an entry in a non-conformist register (RG8/46/0046: Hackney, Victoria Park) which helpfully gave his place of death as St Bartholomew’s (Bart’s) Hospital on the 18th October 1864, aged 64. Feeling fairly confident that I had already identified all the Charles Vie Ridouts of which I was aware, I came to the initial conclusion that perhaps this man may have been the same chap that Arthur had peremptorily despatched in 1809 – and that piqued my curiosity!

My first port of call was to search for Charles in the various censuses; he should, after all, have been in at least three but, after looking high and low, I only managed to corner him in 1851: he and his family were living in Furze Cottage, Brading, Christchurch (HO107-1664-425-17) which is on the Isle of Wight:

Charles Vie Ridout     51        Fund holder & proprietor of houses    City of Bristol
Clara  ”                         34        Annuitant in lands                                  Stow on the Wold
George Augustus ”    11         Scholar                                                       Belgium

Charles’ birthplace gave me some comfort in my original hypothesis and George Augustus’s birthplace might easily explain the family’s absence in the earlier census. I tried to find a marriage for Charles and Clara but didn’t succeed; perhaps they married in Belgium. I managed to trace George Augustus forward to 1861; he’d become a merchant sailor and was boarding in St Benet’s in London, very close to the river. Unfortunately, I believe that a registered death (Ticehurst, Surrey Q1 1872) pertains to him.

By far and away one of the most overlooked sources in family history is the newspaper and it was here that I found a lot of answers. Firstly, there was a legal property wrangle in the Isle of Wight during 1860 in which it seems Mr Ridout was singularly unpopular for his role in the matter. The details are complex and of little relevance here but one paragraph, printed in the Isle of Wight Observer on Saturday 27 October 1860, caught my eye. This was a letter from Charles Vie Ridout, 13, Lower Belgrave Street, Eaton Square, dated 25th October 1860, in which he wrote: “As I am stated a London lawyer, I add for the information of the Advertiser’s correspondent, that I ceased practice in the year 1844, when first went to reside in the Isle of Wight, and for yours that whilst I was in practice and about the year 1829, when your predecessor and partner, the late Mr. Cole, was my clerk…” Obviously, this statement implies that Charles had been legally trained and the proof was not hard to find; the Article of Clerkship (held by Ancestry.co.uk) was extremely useful in this and other respects:

Article

So this document, dated the 6th November 1816, confirms that indeed Charles was the son of Jane Ridout (née Smith); his father Charles had died the year before. The boy, at the age of fifteen, had started a legal apprenticeship with Richard Brickdale Ward, husband of his sister Jane. In his early years Charles appears to have at least travelled, if not lived, in Belgium but had mainly practiced in London. I checked the Law List of 1843 and he was recorded at 3 Plowden Buildings, Middle Temple (a very handsome group of listed buildings, just up from Victoria Embankment).

Going back to Charles’ death, I found a probate record dated 24th December 1864; his executrix and widow was named as Emma Wyatt Ridout of 50 St George’s Road, Pimlico. The deceased was said to be ‘late of Bayswater Villas’ but he had died at ’18 West Smithfield.’  Charles’ effects were valued at less than £300, which was surprising, given his potentially lucrative trade. However, the newspaper articles mentioned above did all allude to Mr Ridout have had ‘his fingers burnt’, by which we might take it that he had become embroiled in unsuccessful property speculation on the Isle of Wight four years earlier and had lost a deal of money. For Charles this may have been the beginning of a very tragic end, which was reported by several newspapers:

“THE EXTRAORDINARY SUICIDE OF A GENTLEMAN. Yesterday Mr. William Payne, the coroner for the City of London, held an inquiry at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital into the circumstances of the death of Mr. Charles Vie Ridout aged 65 years, who committed suicide on the premises of the West Ham Gutta Percha Company, of which he was the manager. Mr. Walter Hancock appeared to watch the case on the part of the company. William Harvey, night watchman at the Gutta Percha Works, West-street, Smithfield said that Mr. Ridout was the confidential manager of the works. Witness last saw him alive at a quarter- past eleven o’clock on Friday night. He had never been so late in the office before. He asked witness to fetch half a pint of beer, and witness went for it. The deceased had been writing all the evening -from six o’clock, when he had come to the office. Witness brought back the beer, but when passing the stable door he heard a noise, apparently from a pistol shot, followed by a groan. Witness ran into the stable and saw deceased lying on the ground with blood flowing from his bead. Witness thought he was in a fit, and called for help. He tried to lift the deceased up, and asked him what was the matter, but he did not answer. A policeman came, followed by a surgeon, who said that he had been shot. The police found a pistol in the straw. Witness found a paper of bullets, powder, and caps, and two letters (produced). Witness noticed nothing unusual about the deceased latterly, or when he directed witness to go out for the beer. Mr. Edward Broughton, clerk at the Gutta Percha Works, said that he had known the deceased for three years. Witness never observed that the deceased’s mind was disturbed in any way. The letters produced were in the deceased’s handwriting. Witness knew that the deceased was involved in pecuniary difficulties. By Mr. Hancock – the deceased was in no way wrong in his accounts with respect to the Gutta Percha Company. Parsons, 232 City Police, produced a pocket pistol which was found in the stable by the side of the deceased. It had just been discharged. Mr. Alfred Hancock, joint manager of the works with the deceased, said that he had known the deceased for three years and a half. He was latterly depressed very much. He was disappointed at not getting other employment. He was about to leave the Gutta Percha Company’s employment because he was not required any longer. His accounts were all right. He was married to a young wife, to whom he was devotedly attached, and he had two or three little children. His income from the company was £200 a year, but he had property of his own. On Friday afternoon witness saw him and he was then rather melancholy. Mr. P. Rowbottom said that latterly the deceased was dispirited, apparently at the prospect of the loss of employment. He was disappointed at not receiving certain sums of money on which he had calculated. Mr. Botolph, house surgeon, said that the deceased was brought into the hospital insensible from a bullet wound, and he died near three o’clock on Saturday morning. The bullet was found in the upper part of the brain. The Coroner said that the letters alluded to by some of the witnesses were two in number – one was written to the wife of the deceased, and the other was addressed ‘To the Coroner and the Jury.’ The letter addressed to the court was as follows:

“To the Coroner and Jury. Gentlemen,—As the law permits, or as it is customary for you to assume the right of not confining your inquiry into the mere fact of death, but extend it into the causes which led self-slaughter, and as it is possible that I may branded with the absurd stigma felo de se, which was applicable only in barbarous age, when, amongst our ancestors, men were the property of their lord, I desire to place at your disposal the best evidence – my own. Throughout my life I enjoyed uninterrupted bodily health, which I thought nothing could break; but utter helpless, hopeless insolvency has overtaken me and weighed me down. It is better for man to owe £100,000 than £100 if he is not in a position to pay the latter sum. The sum of £400 would more than make me a free man; but that is not to be got. The deceased then at great length detailed how three years ago he had borrowed a sum of £500, and how to pay interest on the loan he had sold £300 worth of property for £70, but that, nevertheless, all his efforts had left him hopelessly embarrassed and involved. He continued: It (the loan) answered its purpose at the time, but the end is that I am left without bread at sixty-live. Let no-one blame me for living beyond my means – for what were they? Two hundred a year to support wife and family. All those that knew me know whether my habits were not proper and sensible. The thought of the children and their gentle mother was the only reward I had for struggling on for years in an occupation I held and an employment I despised. So much for life – now for death. The mind of man depends so much on its manifestations, on corporeal functions. A blow on the brain with a hammer would have converted a Shakespeare or a Newton into drivelling idiots. Where then would have been their magnificent creations or grand thoughts? I do not understand ”entering into eternity.” The phrase involves a contradiction in terms. Eternity is that which has neither beginning nor end. I have thought over all this until my brain has become like that of one that hangs over a precipice! No-one has a belief other than fervent hope, earnest desire! We repeat what have learned from others like parrots. “There is more honesty in frank doubt than ill weak belief.” For my part I can only believe in what I can thoroughly comprehend. I die believing nothing but hoping all things. I write all this because there is always so much said about death being a “rash act,” a “rushing into the presence of one’s Maker without God’s permission.” I feel but an instrument in God’s hand for my own just punishment. I placed all my happiness in a home to which I had no right, for I had not the means necessary to keep up. That darling angel! If I could possibly I would still struggle for her sake. And my child’s cherub face is before me saying, ‘Papa, don’t leave us.’ What can I do? But this is going back again to life. What tricks and subterfuges in order to make this home happy! I am ashamed to make so much fuss about dying, but the thought of them overcomes me. My dying averts ruin from another, who, if I lived, would be ruined too. Pardon me this trouble, but perhaps some of you have children. Until the age of 60 I never was in difficulty. I trust you will take a charitable view all, and pardon me occupying your time. Charles Vie Ridout October 14. To face death at the cannon’s mouth in the presence of thousands, and with the Victoria Cross to encourage your spirits is an easy task; but the heart sinks when in the solitude of a chamber. Shame, remorse, despair, mock and mouth at you from the barrel of a pistol, and a little cherub cries out to you, ” Don’t papa; papa, don’t do it.” The Coroner said that it would be for the jury to consider whether the letter read would tend to show that the deceased was in unsound state of mind. If they were not of opinion that it did there could be no alternative but to return a verdict of felo de se. The jury returned a verdict of “Suicide while in a state of unsound mind.

Charles had obviously left the Isle of Wight after the property debacle and had taken a comparatively poorly paid job as a factory manager. I do not know what happened to young Emma; maybe she re-married and enjoyed a less troubled life; I hope so. I did find one piece, published many years later, in the marriages section of the London press:

HENSMAN – LE BRUN. 18th April 1889 at St Mary’s Fulham by Rev C Bradshaw MA vicar, James Thomas, eldest son of Charles HENSMAN of Watford to Amy, only daughter of the late Charles Vie Ridout, Belgrave Street, Eaton Square and widow of the late H R Le-Brun, Lille, France.

Clearly, at least one of poor Charles’ children, undoubtedly traumatised by the sudden and violent death of their beloved father, despite also having lost a husband, hopefully had better times with James. I have no idea who Charles’ other children were as, once again, I can find no baptisms; that Charles was buried as a non-conformist might explain this or maybe it’s just that some people simply evade the records. However, as tragically as Charles’ life ended, he at least enjoyed fifty-four more years of existence than Arthur George Ridout had given him!

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